Thomas Allen & Son sent me Keep Going in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
I don’t want to tell you how many times I’ve thought of chucking my blog but it’s up there. For all of the usual reasons: My writing sucks; it’s too hard; I’m not funny or interesting or loveable enough; I should post more often; no one reads it; my pictures are crap; and so on. All of which I believe to different degrees depending on the day. Some days I’m even happy with a post or a particular picture, then two days later I think it sucks. But I keep going. And some books really help. Like this month’s new one from Austin Kleon, Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad.
Here’s the description from the front flap of the book. (I know there’s a word for that flap, but I always forget it.)
Keep working. Keep playing. Keep creating.
In his previous books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work!, both New York Times bestsellers, Austin Kleon gave readers the keys to unlock their creativity and showed them how to become known. Now he offers his most inspiring work yet, with ten simple rules for how to stay creative, focused, and true to yourself—for life.
The creative life is not a linear journey to a finish line, it’s a loop—so find a daily routine, because today is the only day that matters. Disconnect from the world to connect with yourself—sometimes you just have to switch into airplane mode. Keep Going celebrates getting outdoors and taking a walk (as director Ingmar Bergman told his daughter, ”The demons hate fresh air”). Pay attention, and especially pay attention to what you pay attention to. Worry less about getting things done, and more about the worth of what you’re doing. Instead of focusing on making your mark, work to leave things better than you found them.
Keep Going and its timeless, practical, and ethical principles are for anyone trying to sustain a meaningful and productive life.
It’s a fairly short book so you could read it in one sitting, but I think it’s worthwhile to pause along the way (for however long you need) and reflect on Austin’s points. Really let them sink in. I think sometimes we let things go in one ear and out the other because we think we’ve heard it before, but when we consider it more closely, we learn something new altogether.
Here are some points that really resonated with me:
You can be woke without waking to the news
Whether that’s the actual news (or just the latest news from your phone), Austin says it’s important to protect what might be your most creative time of the day.
“When you reach for your phone or laptop upon waking, you’re immediately inviting anxiety and chaos into your life,” he writes. “… Even if it’s for fifteen minutes, give yourself some time in the morning to not be horrified by the news. It’s not sticking your head in the sand. It’s retaining some of your inner balance and sanity so you can be strong and do your work.”
The ordinary + extra attention = the extraordinary
“It is easy to assume that if only you could trade your life for a new one, all your creative problems would be solved,” Austin writes. “If only you could quit your day job, move to a hip city, rent the perfect studio, and fall in with the right gang of brilliant misfits! Then you’d really have it made. … You do not need to have an extraordinary life to make extraordinary work. Everything you need to make extraordinary art can be found in your everyday life.”
What’s important is to slow down and really look at things. One way to look: by drawing. Austin cites cartoonist Chris Ware, who says drawing helps us live in the moment and concentrate on what’s in front of us. Plus it makes you feel better.
“An artist using a sketchbook always looks like a happy person,” said film critic Roger Ebert. (He took up sketching later in life and said it deepened his experiences of places and moments.)
Demons hate fresh air // To exercise is to exorcise
Go outside and walk! Seeing the world as it is for ourselves helps us combat all of the information we get from the corporations, marketers and politicians who want us to see the world their way.
“When we’re glued to our screens, the world looks unreal. Terrible. Not worth saving or even spending time with,” Austin writes. “Everyone on earth seems like a troll or a maniac or worse. But you get outside and start walking and you come to your senses. Yes there are a few maniacs and some ugliness but there are also people smiling and birds chirping, clouds flying overhead . . . all that stuff. There’s possibility. Walking is a way to find possibility in your life when there doesn’t seem to be any left.”
Austin gives several wonderful examples of famous poets, artists and scientists who strolled and rambled and hiked. Like Henry David Thoreau, who’d spend four hours each day walking around the woods.
“Methinks that the moment my legs being to move, my thoughts begin to flow,” he wrote.
Keep Going is packed with solid advice I think a lot of people could benefit from, whether they work in a creative field or not. I’ll be turning to it often. But for now, perhaps a walk.
How do you keep going — with your art, or just putting one foot in front of the other? What helps? (And if you know the word for the front flap of a book, let me know. That’s still bugging me.)
Images from Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon (Workman Publishing). Copyright © 2019. Illustrations by Austin Kleon. Used with permission from the publisher.